It was in 1760 that the Sovereign (George III) first surrendered the surplus revenue (but not the ownership) of what is now The Crown Estate in England and Wales to Parliament, in exchange for income from the Government under the now expired Civil List. Crown lands in Scotland were included in this arrangement from 1832. The arrangement has been renewed ever since by subsequent monarchs at the start of every reign – this Queen did this upon ascending the throne in 1952. The assets of The Crown Estate are therefore not the property of the Government, nor are they the Sovereign’s private estate. They are part of the hereditary possessions of the Sovereign “in right of the Crown”.
Since 1760, the net income of The Crown Estate has been surrendered to the Exchequer by the Monarch under successive Civil List Acts, passed at the beginning of each reign. The Crown Estate is though owned by the Monarch in right of the Crown. This means that the Queen owns it by virtue of holding the position of reigning Monarch, for as long as she is on the throne, as will her successor. Thought The Queen does not own The Crown Estate as a private individual, she is the Proprietor. Responsibility for managing The Crown Estate is trusted to us, under the Crown Estate Act, and the Queen is not involved in management decisions.
By contrast, the Queen also has private assets, which include Balmoral and Sandringham, and are hers to deal with as she chooses. But by no means all of what is commonly called Crown Land or Crown Property forms part of The Crown Estate. In the UK “the Crown” is used not only to describe the Monarch, but also the Executive and the Judiciary. Thus properties owned and managed by Government departments are also Crown Property; these have nothing to do with the funding of the Monarchy or The Crown Estate.
Although the ownership of some property can be traced back to Edward the Confessor, the estate as a whole essentially dates from 1066. After the Norman Conquest, all the land belonged to William “in right of The Crown” because he was King. Despite centuries of change in law and custom, the underlying ownership of The Crown still exists and there is always a presumption in favour of The Crown unless it can be proved that the land belongs to someone else. The Sovereign’s estates had always been used to raise revenue, and over time large areas were granted to nobles. The estate fluctuated in size and value but by 1760, when George III acceded to the throne, the asset had been reduced to a small area producing little income – revenue which George III needed to fulfil the Sovereign’s fiscal responsibilities to the nation.
By that time taxes had become the prime source of revenue for the United Kingdom and Parliament administered the country, so an agreement was reached that the Crown Lands would be managed on behalf of the Government and the surplus revenue would go to the Treasury. In return the King would receive a fixed annual payment – formerly known as the Civil List. This agreement has, at the beginning of each reign, been repeated by every succeeding Sovereign. Crown Lands in Scotland were included within the arrangement from 1832.
In 1955 a Government Committee under the Chairmanship of Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve recommended that to avoid confusion between Government property and Crown land, the latter should be renamed The Crown Estate and should be managed by an independent board. These recommendations were implemented by the Crown Estate Acts of 1956 and 1961, which established The Crown Estate as it is today. Under the Act of 1961, the estate is managed by a Board who have a duty to maintain and enhance the value of the estate and the return obtained from it, but with due regard to the requirements of good management. In 2011 the Sovereign Grant Act became law. Under the Act The Crown Estate continues to give its entire annual surplus (net profit) to the Treasury. The Act simply provides a mechanism that will be used by the Treasury to determine the amount of Government funding for the Monarch by reference to the amount of our annual surplus.
Visit the official website of the Crown Estate by clicking here